Intestinal pseudo-obstruction is a condition in which there are symptoms of intestinal blockage without any physical blockage.
In primary intestinal pseudo-obstruction, the intestine is unable to contract and push food, stool, and air through the gastrointestinal tract. The disorder most often affects the small intestine, but can also occur in the large intestine.
The condition may come on suddenly (acute) or over time (chronic). It is most common in children and the elderly. The cause of the problem is unknown. Therefore, it is also called idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction. Idiopathic means occurring without a known reason.
Risk factors include:
- Cerebral palsy or other nervous system (neurologic) disorders
- Chronic kidney, lung, or heart disease
- Staying in bed for long periods of time (bedridden)
- Taking narcotic (pain) medicines or other drugs that slow intestinal movements (often called anticholinergic drugs)
Exams and Tests
During a physical exam, the health care provider will most often see abdominal bloating.
- Colonoscopy may be used to remove air from the large intestine.
- Fluids can be given through a vein (intravenous fluids) to replace fluids lost from vomiting or diarrhea.
- Nasogastric suction involving a nasogastric (NG) tube placed through the nose into the stomach can be used to remove air from (decompress) the bowel.
- Neostigmine may be used to treat intestinal pseudo-obstruction that is only in the large bowel (Ogilvie's syndrome).
- Special diets often do not work. However, vitamin B12 and other vitamin supplements should be used for patients with vitamin deficiency.
- Stopping the medicines that may have caused the problem (such as narcotic drugs) may help.
In severe cases, surgery may be needed.
Most cases of acute pseudo-obstruction get better in a few days with treatment. In chronic forms of the disease, symptoms can come back and get worse over many years.
- Rupture (perforation) of the intestine
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Weight loss
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have abdominal pain that does not go away or other symptoms of this disorder.
Primary intestinal pseudo-obstruction; Acute colonic ileus; Colonic pseudo-obstruction; Idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction; Ogilvie's syndrome; Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction
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Update Date 8/11/2014
Updated by: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.